Women have accomplished plenty, but somehow, their inspiring stories don’t always get the attention they deserve. There have been many notable women over the years. Be they ordinary women or extraordinary, their contributions are vital to any society. Yet, there haven’t been many memoirs or biographies that celebrate them. With this in mind, Mumbai-based writer Jerry Pinto makes it a point to bring out women’s voices through his works.
Pinto’s biography of the Indian film actress and dancer Helen Richardson Khan, his novel Em and The Big Hoom that tells the story of a bipolar mother through the eyes of her teenage son, and his co-authored biography of the Indian actress Leela Naidu are telling of his passion for women’s fascinating lives, their compelling works and remarkable achievements. In a conversation with Soulveda, the Sahitya Akademi awardee speaks of his translations of women’s Bhakti poems, the theme of longing for the beloved and the gendered nature of such devotional poetry.
You’re a writer who has written works of non-fiction based on the lives of notable women. What moves you to do this?
I don’t think I have a choice. I think sometimes the projects choose you instead of you choosing them. With Leela Naidu, for instance, she chose me. I had heard many bits and pieces about her interesting life from her friends and one day, she called me and asked if I would like to help her with writing her memoir. I have always felt that there are too few women’s memoirs around. If you tell a woman to write her memoir, her response is generally something like, ‘Who would be interested?’ You tell a man he should write a memoir and he whips out a manuscript!
What according to you is the connection between devotional poems and women?
I can only say that some of the most beautiful abhanga (devotional poems) have been written by women. And, when male classical poets and musicians want to yearn, want to long, they often sing or write in the female gender in order to best represent the separation from the beloved.
No poem is ever relevant or irrelevant on its own. It only becomes relevant or irrelevant when there is a reader.